An evening with Alma Audio, Wilson Audio and MSB Technologies
Call me skeptical. America’s HiFi show circus, nay, circuit, has apparently been booming. Who says HiFi is dying?
Judging from the past half-decade of show after show, each one trying to usurp the previous, you’d be hard pressed to think that anything is wrong in HiFi land. Indeed, I would say that there are more shows today than at any other time in the history of HiFi. With attendance more or less even keeled, one would think that business is booming. Certainly, for some it is while others are struggling and yet others still are getting by, squeezing every dollar to pay their bills. What gives? Well, for one, we tend to lump all of HiFi into one big basket, whereas in reality, we are perhaps the most fractured and fragmented industry I know of, Google’s Android OS being the only other relevant comparison I can think of. Thus, the immense discrepancies in success far and wide: in this case, unfortunately, the tide is not nearly rising all boats – and that’s perfectly fine.
Frankly, as I have been pondering these big questions for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that we need a bit of a seismic shift regarding all these shows. Sure, one easy alternative is to continue pressing on as we have: hustle (mega-buck) equipment from continent to continent, show to show and hope that the cumulative, all-for-one and one size fits all approach to marketing will leave enough crumbs on the table for everyone to benefit. Let’s face it, if you aren’t selling, you aren’t paying your bills, it’s really quite that simple. Breadcrumbs, while not medium rare filet at LA’s superb Baltaire, do hold off your favorite bank from calling in the chips. But, what if? What if we could somehow maintain the universal message of high-end music playback adding meaningful years to your life while at the same time tailoring the message – pivoting – the conversation just a little bit to cater the message to the audience on hand? Ask any manufacturer what they would love most and unequivocally, the answer always lands at more and better – read: higher-end – customers.
I think it’s time to put a fork in the road and start advocating for shows catering to two, perhaps even three distinct audiences: first, keep one or two shows a year for those already initiated and well into the hobby – call this the bread and butter audiophile. Second, setup shows on a far smaller, far more intimate and thus far more high-end scale that cater specifically to some existing but mostly new customers. These would be events where the focus would be much more on education, the “why” behind HiFi. Our current branding for those outside the industry simply stinks. Someone with necessary capital rightfully looks at our high-end segment as “these folks are nuts”. Why? Because no one has connected the dots for them in the way that BMW, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Rolex or fill in your own favorite blank lifestyle brand has. This is the same reason that advertising in high-end magazines, like Robb Report, Vanity Fair, Christopherus (Porsche’s rag) or Departures (AMEX’s rag) won’t do much of anything except cost you fair market luxury lifestyle marketing dollars. In English, that’s bucko bucks. Basically, it would be lights out in six months, if you know what I mean. MQA compatibility or not, you’d be literally doomed.
In my first piece here at FIDELITY, I alerted to some dealers putting the right step forward. There’s others who are trying, case in point, Alma Audio, San Diego’s high-end premier destination dreamland. Owned and operated by Fabio Storelli and managed by his long time sidekick, Alex Siufy, this past Friday saw them host an event with Wilson Audio Specialties and MSB Technologies. Certainly, the hosts proved a great start to the event, as Wilson’s Peter McGrath and MSB’s Vince Galbo presented their latest and greatest wares to a house full of mostly the initiated, read, audiophiles. As each of the hosts took turns to advocate for high-end audio and their particular products specifically, I couldn’t help notice the educational undertone of each presenter’s monologues and discussions. Naturally, explaining the benefits of a 58k loudspeaker, a DAC costing 120k and a pair of monoblock amps ringing it at 39k, you have to really dig deep into each of the brand’s specialties and overall missions and goals. Case in point, I felt that both Peter and Vince did a great job of highlighting the value of their products and that in the end, when Peter played his own recordings (and many other commercial titles), the message they had first spun had seemed to stick.
And stick it did. The analog-like – an often-overused term to describe digital playback – sound, warmth and familiarity of each of the cuts played showed the tremendous capabilities of the system as a whole, with bass effortlessly reaching the deepest depths of the Hertz range. The dynamic swings this setup was capable of was nothing short of astounding, a definite testament to the full range character of the Alexia Series 2 and MSB electronics driving them. Speaking of driving, MSB’s M204 are definitely amplifiers I would at some point be keen to audition as they appeared to have that holographic midrange imaging I am so fond of and my reference EINSTEIN The Silver Bullet Mk II OTL amplifiers are capable of delivering in spades. Smitten as I was with Wilson Audio’s first-generation Alexia (which I upgraded to Alexx late last year), Alexia Series 2 proved that much better and more grown up. One size does not fit all.
Within an hour of the event kicking off, the main salon was standing room only, with guests and friends packing the auditioning room quite literally to the gills. Even so, the sound continued to impress with the Alexia 2 / MSB system unquestionably proving up to the challenge of such a large space without a hint of stress. Several tracks Peter and Vince em-c’d literally shook the house – on Boris Blank’s (one half of the Swiss electronic music pioneers Yello) produced Malia collaboration album, bass and dynamics seemed quite literally off the charts, stupid good and more than plentiful.
Given Alma’s new digs and generous size and space, guests had an easy time of mingling in the store’s main – albeit very large – room; Alma’s Alex and Fabio doing a great job of keeping customers engaged and actively participating in the conversations to be had. The fact that Alma also has a sizeable vinyl collection / selection for sale also proved an ace in the hole with many of the guests happily sifting through bin after bin scouring for that perfect album missing from their collection. Since Alma Audio are also dealers for Devialet, Audio Research, YG and many other very fine brands, anyone looking for the best was easily swayed with the store’s assortment of HiFi.
Could this – these types of events – be the way forward? Time will tell, though both Alex and Fabio have already committed to hosting many more of these events throughout 2018. Seems like there’s a sticking stick, otherwise, why bother. Personally, I feel that with a few tweaks and twerks, these music and customer sessions could be further fine-tuned to produce the desired results. Depending on the audience, these events could contain even more education, in particular answering the often missing “Why” element in HiFi’s equation. Simon Sinek would know. Ultimately, a person seeing a Ferrari knows the why. A person seeing mega-buck HiFi gear not so much. South Coast Plaza, a local and very upscale, nay, high-end mall, has many answers for the lifestyle spender’s “Why”. As mentioned, the dots haven’t been connected and thusly much of this is meaningless and just plain obscenely expensive to the uninitiated. We have our work cut out, but I firmly believe that there is in fact hope and a silver lining. As I had mentioned, one of my goals for 2018 has been to spend more time covering these types of events and exclusive showings for I believe this is where the answers ultimately lie. As Ted Turner famously said, only more is more. Consider this report the first among many more to come in this series. Meanwhile, ask yourself “Why” and spread the news. HiFi is in fact great and even better when Wilson Audio and MSB are making music courtesy of Alma Audio’s fine proprietors.
The evening at Alma Audio took place on 19th January 2018.